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Portrait Photography with Gwen Johnson

Megan Snider

On August 20, the Calvert Photography Club was pleased to welcome several new members - and Gwen Johnson, a talented photographer from White Lilac Photography. After Guy led introductions and an overview of the club, Gwen began to discuss her background and experience in photography.

Gwen JohnsonGwen’s interest in photography - especially people photography - first began in high school. After growing up in foster care, she discovered that photos could tell her story and give her a new voice. She loves capturing the little moments between families, parents and children, siblings.

“It’s nothing tangible,” she said. “Just a feeling you get looking at a photo.”

Discussing portrait photography in particular, Gwen gave a synopsis of what a “portrait” truly is: capturing the likeness, personality and mood of a person, for example, usually with their entire face in the frame. There are no hard and fast rules for portraits, of course. “And some of the best portraits break the ‘rules’ of photography,” she said.

“The human element is the wild card,” she continued. As photographers, our goal is just to inspire a reaction in the viewer.

A few portrait styles Gwen mentioned are constructionist (conveying an idea—like an ad, for example); environmental (lifestyle—showing personality and who they truly are); and candid (street photography, paparazzi-style photos); and creative (heavy digital manipulation).

Lighting in portrait photography is very important, too. Gwen gave a break down of her own studio, which includes main lights, a fill light, background light and a light to highlight hair. She recommends sylights.com for creating your own mock-up.

A few portrait photography tips from Gwen:

  • In outdoor situations, combat strong sunglight by having your subject face away from the sun and use your fill light to brighten their face. Remember that spot metering is your friend, and use to learn reflectors.
  • When posing subjects, don’t photograph hands or the backs of hands; they tend to look large and unnatural. Don’t have fingers faceing your camera or reaching out to the camera.
  • Learn the “masculine vs. feminine” head tilt. Men tend to tilt their heads slight back, with the chin rising; women look better with their chins tilted down, and foreheads facing outward. Think of it like a coy, “come hither” look for women.
  • Women’s curves should be accentuated. Don’t line subjects up like they’re just been booked at the local jail. Turn slightly away. “And if it bends, bend it,” Gwen said, indicating the hip flexor (jut it out), elbows, etc. “Women should almost always be angled, but men can be straight on.” The subject can let you knwo their personal preference.
  • When cropping a photo, avoid cutting the subject off at any joint—like the neck or elbow. It tends to look unnatural and gives the impression of a limb amputation.
  • When working with kids, give them time to warm up and provide prompts. Let them pose naturally and follow them with your camera by getting down on their level. Go for details and fill the frame. Remember that props can be cute, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t be afraid to do something off the wall.
  • If working with a “serious” subject or just trying to get some natural laughter, Gwen encourages her subjects to give her “the best fake laugh ever.” In trying to be silly, that laughter often turns genuine.
  • Encourage groups of subjects to get in close to one another. Don’t allow too much space between each person.
  • Another great tip for getting less-than-eager subjects to give you a winning grin? “I say, ‘I don’t want you to smile—but I want you to think about smiling,’” Gwen said. It usually gets a shy, sneaky smile to pop up in no time.

Above all else, Gwen advised, get out with your camera and shoot. “Be yourself and do what you love,” she said.

White LilacThanks, Gwen, for your time and excellent advice!

Our next photo trip will be to Annapolis on Saturday, Sept. 3 (Labor Day weekend). Check our Yahoo! group for additional details this week.

Our previous shooting assignment was urban decay, and members shared photos (and stories!) of their attempts to take pictures of buildings in ruin. Megan and Spencer barely skirted law enforcement while trying to document one La Plata spot, and Sandy went on a wild adventure before arriving at a dilapidated home in Waldorf.

To coincide with Gwen’s presentation, our shooting assignment for the coming month will be people photography. Think about portraits and how to document loved ones, friends, strangers. Consider Gwen’s tips and try something a little different before out September meeting, which will be held at a new location at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17. Just in September, we will be meeting at the Northeast Community Center in Chesapeake Beach. (Location and map are here.) The Prince Frederick and Owings libraries were booked this month.

See you in September!


Great Falls offers scenic views, lovely memories

Megan Snider

When the Calvert Photography Club convened at Great Falls Park, Va., on August 6, the darkness of early morning couldn?t keep us from gathering our equipment and setting out for the falls. We heard the water before we saw it ? always a thrilling sound.

Great FallsThe sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon as Jeff led our group to the first overlook,  which offered the closest view of the falls. After such an early start, it was a relief to be camping out and waiting for a breathtaking view.

And we weren?t disappointed. Though the weather was overcast and we weren?t treated to any pinks or reds at sunrise, the soft morning light was perfect for capturing the quiet ambiance of Great Falls. After putting it on my ?must see? local list years ago, it was great fun to finally see this spot of the Potomac River.

After several hours of shooting, club members moved between all three overlooks to capture the best possible angle of the falls. As Jeff explained, the Potomac?s water level was actually quite low during our outing; much of the rocky bottom and cliff faces were exposed. In an effort to get even closer, several members moved to the river shore and were joined by other locals with their cameras. Even at 7 a.m., it was a happening place to be.

Great FallsWe enjoyed getting together in a different locale and photographing one of our area?s beautiful natural wonders. Though we fought mosquitoes and rising humidity, we came home with fun memories and full memory cards.

And as Great Falls seems to look different on every visit, we?ll just have to make the trek again soon.


From Rio to the Rainforest - Third Stop: Brazilia

Teddie Watts

The city was planned and developed in 1956 with Lúcio Costa as the principal urban planner and Oscar Niemeyer as the principal architect. President Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of Brasília, fulfilling an article of the country’s constitution dating back to 1891 stating that the capital should be moved from Rio de Janeiro to a place close to the center of the country to help populate that area. The city was built in only four years.  On April 22 of 1960, it formally became Brazil’s national capital. The public sector is by far the largest employer, accounting for around 40% of the city jobs. Government jobs include all levels, from the federal police to diplomacy, from the transportation bureau to the armed forces.  Salaries in Brazilia far outpace those of Rio. The Federal District has the largest GDP per capita income of Brazil.

The city is full of modernist architecture, much of it the work of Niemeyer.  He designed buildings, furniture, cathedrals, and works of art.  I thought his chairs were interesting, but we had trouble getting out of them without tipping them over.

Teddie Watts Photography

Niemeyer?s Justice department building is suspended from the star-shaped structure on top.

Teddie Watts Photography

Citizens live in forested areas in what are called superquadras, huge blocks of apartments flanked by small commercial areas, bookstores and cafes.  The apartments are quite large and there aren?t many single-family homes in Brazilia.  There is an element of ?sameness? in the residential areas, as all the Blocos look pretty much alike.


Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

The entry levels are elegant.
 
But the exteriors are pretty ordinary.

Teddie Watts Photography

The Juscelino Kubitschek bridge, also known as the ‘JK Bridge’, was spectacular.  It crosses Lake Paranoá.  It won the Gustav Lindenthal Medal due to “...outstanding achievement demonstrating harmony with the environment, aesthetic merit and successful community participation”.

Teddie Watts Photography

The Cathedral of Brazilia was also designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It is a concrete-framed structure with its glass roof reaching up, open, to the heavens.

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

An angel ?flies? through the interior of the cathedral.

Churches in Brazilia were very different from what one usually sees on a trip abroad.  Because the climate is mild, many use extensive swaths of stained glass.  The Dom Brosco Sanctuary is a good example.  The interior is composed almost entirely of individual openable, blue-glass jalousie windows.

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

We had the opportunity to tour another of the federal buildings.  It had a fantastic interior staircase, a garden on the ground level, and a roof-top garden.

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography

Teddie Watts Photography


Teddie Watts Photography

Brazilia was interesting, but Washington D.C. has more character.  Having been built all at once over a four-year period has resulted in everything seeming a bit out-dated and static.  Perhaps, as Brazil continues its economic growth, Brazilia will grow as well and its character will become more varied and complex.

Our next stop on our journey is Manaus.  Colonial rubber capital of Brazil and the gateway to the Amazon.

Teddie Watts Photography